Uganda’s population is expected to reach 100 million by 2050
By Mike Ibrahim Okumu
In Uganda today, like it is globally, the youth bracket (18 to 30 year olds who constitute 23% of Uganda’s population) is being deemed a time bomb given the rigidities in youth transition to productive employment.
For example, in Uganda, youth unemployment was estimated at 18.2% as of 2015 with youth female and male employment rate estimated at 22.4% and 14% respectively. More specifically, as of 2015, the unemployment rate among youths who had no education; not completed primary education; completed primary education; completed secondary education; completed vocational and tertiary education was estimated to be 17.7%; 7.4%; 14.9%; 16.2%; 17.7%; 14.2% and 14.8% respectively (Uganda Bureau of Statistics 2016).
For such an age group being without productive employment suggests a hopeless livelihood that is likely to transit into old age poverty and poor life choices for children born of such youths. Furthermore, there is a risk of social and political instability arising from youth unemployment, especially given that Uganda’s population is not growing any lower with the fraction of youths expected to increase further.
Indeed, Uganda’s population is expected to reach 100 million by 2050, suggesting that youth unemployment is bound to increase potentially undermining the likelihood of leveraging the youth population dividend.
To, therefore, abate youth unemployment and thus leverage the youth population dividend, it is a question of the production sectors (manufacturing, tourism, mining, agriculture and agro-processing among others) generating jobs on one hand and on the other hand the education sector producing skilled youths that can seamlessly transit into the labour market. The interest of this write up is the education sector generating skilled youths that are amenable to the labour market skill requirements specifically through business, technical and vocational education training (BTVET).
BTVET is a skills training track (which takes place in technical schools/polytechnics, technical institutes, technical colleges, medical colleges, agriculture colleges, colleges of commerce and Non-Formal Training Framework, NTFT) that offers youths an opportunity to acquire practical skills, attitudes, understanding and knowledge as they are related to various occupations in the production space. In essence, at the end of one’s skills training, they are pretty much ready-made for the labour market in their respective occupational choices, be it plumbing, welding, metal fabrication and hair dressing, among others. Indeed, it is because of this promise that the Government undertook to have a technical school in every district. As of now at least 80 districts have a technical school.
However, the success of the BTVET as a messiah in abating youth unemployment given the on-going qualifications jungle is compromised. As is, both the Directorate of Industrial Training (DIT) and Uganda Business and Technical Examinations (UBTEB) have examination centres thus issuing certificates of completion to students that sit for their respective examinations among technical schools. Furthermore, for universities that have a BTVET component, students can go through the entire education circle including transiting to a degree programme without certification from BTVET examination boards, that is UBTEB, Uganda Allied Health Examinations Board (UAHEB) and Uganda Nursing and Midwifery Examinations Board (UNMEB).
Such a qualifications jungle complicates talent identification. For instance, faced with two BTVET graduates one with a UBTEB certificate of completion while the other has a DIT certificate of completion; what guides an employer’s choice of employee? Which qualification weighs more?
Fortunately, DIT has a mandate to, among others, engage in competence certification which is not restricted to BTVET graduates only, but rather extends to persons trained on job and graduates of the NFTF. Certification of competence aids in gauging an individual’s skill level to the extent that the degree of workmanship can be established.
Perhaps the missing link is making competence certification compulsory so that DIT can be fully engaged. This would mean that for every BTVET graduate, the right to trade a skill can only be possible upon successfully acquiring a certificate of competence from DIT. Making compulsory competence certification would not only partly abate the qualifications jungle, but it would ensure fair skills representation in the labour market and thus ease of talent identification among employers. Indeed, in an on-going study about employer perception of BTVET graduate competence in Uganda, Okumu and Bbaale (2017) show that among employers aware of DIT competence certification, 90% of them reported that BTVET graduates with both DIT competence certification and UBTEB certificate of completion perform better than BTVET graduates with only UBTEB certificates of completion. It is thus imperative that UBTEB specialises in examination standardisation and issuance of certificates of completion while DIT engages in competence assessment.
With regard to universities training and examining BTVET students in complete disregard of the BTVET examinations boards, perhaps there ought to be a realignment of both the TVET ACT 2008 and the Universities and Other Tertiary Institutions Act (UOTIA) 2008. While under the UOTIA 2008, universities have the mandate to design curriculum, examine and award certificates of completion; this implies that for a university to take on BTVET programmes, it need not follow the TVET Act 2008. The TVET Act 2008, however, empowers the National Curriculum Development Centre to design curriculum while giving UBTEB, UAHEB and UNMEB the mandate to approve examination centres and at the same time administer examinations.
To, therefore, have BTVET programmes under universities to be undertaken with complete disregard of the BTVET institutional structures as defined by the TVET ACT 2008 implies absence of uniformity in skills development among BTVET students that follow the university skilling track and those that follow BTVET institutional skills development track.
Perhaps smoothening the UOTIA 2008 and the TVET ACT 2008 could be helpful in creating standardisation in Uganda’s skills development sector. This is especially so as regards programmes that technically fall under BTVET. Otherwise, if the status quo is to be maintained, then it is pertinent that competence certification is made compulsory for purposes of sending clear signals regarding the skills competence of BTVET graduates regardless of whether they undertook the university or BTVET skills development tracks.
Finally, while increasing physical access to vocational skills is a positive step towards skills development and thus abating youth unemployment, it is equally important that the labour market is made aware of the skills competences of BTVET graduates.
In that regard, strengthening the DIT structures while at the same time making competence assessment compulsory ought to be a step in the right direction. Better still a clear structure ought to be set up to ensure that DIT engages strictly in competence assessment of BTVET graduates while the examination of BTVET students and issuance of certificates of completion is left to the examination boards.
The writer is a lecturer at the School of Economics, Makerere University